By Tom Schoenberg, firstname.lastname@example.org, Nov 16, 2012 6:19 PM ET
Alan Gross, a U.S. contractor arrested and jailed in Cuba, accused the government and his employer of ignoring the dangers of his assignment in the Communist nation and failing to protect him properly. Gross, in a lawsuit filed today in federal court in Washington, alleged the U.S. and Development Alternatives Inc. didn’t provide him with training and education to minimize risks to his safety and refused to pull him out of the country after he expressed concerns about the operation. Gross and his wife are seeking $60 million in damages. “DAI engaged in this behavior — putting profits before safety — despite having, along with defendant United States, superior knowledge regarding the risks posed to Mr. Gross,”Scott Gilbert, a lawyer for Gross, wrote in the complaint.
Gross, 63, was working as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Cuba when he was arrested Dec. 3, 2009, and charged with “actions against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state.” He has maintained his innocence while serving a 15-year sentence. Gross’s detention heightened tensions between Cuba and the U.S., which has called for his immediate release and rejected charges that he was a spy for carrying telecommunications equipment to the island. Bill Richardson, a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, failed to win Gross’s release in a visit to Cuba last year.
The U.S. also last year rejected an offer to release a group of five convicted Cuban spies as part of a deal to free Gross. “We are disappointed that the Gross family has chosen to file a law suit at this point in time,” Steven O’Connor, a spokesman for Bethesda, Maryland-based DAI, said in an e-mailed statement. “As much as we would like to address the numerous disagreements we have with the content of the complaint, the fact is that doing so will not advance the cause of bringing Alan home, which remains our highest priority.” He said “we will have a chance to tell DAI’s side of this story in due course.” Charles Miller, a spokesman for the Justice Department, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Gross was in Cuba as part of a contract his company had with USAID to establish wireless networks and Internet connections for non-dissident Cuban Jewish communities. Cuba state prosecutors accused him of performing a “subversive project aiming at bringing down the revolution” by disseminating distorted information about the government. Gross told DAI in post-trip reports that the project was “very risky,” warning supervisors that unauthorized use of radio frequencies “usually means confiscation of equipment and arrest of users,” according to the complaint. After his fourth trip to the country, Gross described efforts by Cuban officials to “sniff out” wireless networks and other radio-frequency use outside of Havana. DAI passed the memos on to USAID, which ignored his concerns, Gross alleges. “Defendant United States continued, without any adjustment, the Cuba ICT Project, using Mr. Gross as a pawn in its overall Cuban policy efforts,” according to the complaint.
The case is Gross v. Development Alternatives Inc., 12-cv-1860, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).